Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:
Back in the 19th century when Westerners were beginning to read some of the Buddhist texts, and all saw was suffering, death, aging, illness, As a result, they wrote Buddhism off as a very pessimistic religion. But when they went to Asia, they saw that Buddhists in general were very happy people. The temple fairs, the various observances in the course of the year, were always very happy gatherings. And the Westerners came to the conclusion that Buddhists didn’t understand their own religion. If they really understood what the Buddha taught, they would be morose and horribly depressed. But instead they were happy.
So Westerners came up with a theory of what they called the great tradition versus the little tradition, i.e. the great tradition being what was in the texts and the little tradition being Buddhism on the ground. But what they really missed was the central message in the texts, which is that your happiness is in your hands. And that true happiness comes from behaving in a way that’s totally harmless. And not just harmless in the sense that you’re not going to hurt other people, but also that you’re going to positively do good by practicing generosity as an important part of the path. This is how the Buddha’s message is empowering. You can create a happy life by acting in ways that are noble and good.
You see this in the Buddhist tradition all the way from the time of the Buddha’s funeral. Even though the Buddha had just passed away, there was singing and dancing at his funeral in honor of him. On the one hand, people were sad that he had gone, but on the other, they were honoring the fact that they had been alive when there had been such a wonderful human being in the world. The same with the temple fairs in the very early centuries: They were very happy occasions because everyone got together to do good. Social caste didn’t mean anything. Everybody was working together, helping in line with their talents and abilities.
So it is possible to create a good society. Whenever one gathers around the principle that true happiness comes from being harmless, being helpful, training the mind — that’s empowering. And you don’t need to have political power in the world outside. You have the power to create your own world right here, right now through your actions.
From: In Charge of Your World
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu